moved that Bill C-414, an act to establish Verbal Abuse Prevention Week, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am standing before you today to present my private member's bill, Bill C-414.As the record indicates, Bill C-414 is an act that would designate the first week in the month of October each year as verbal abuse prevention week in Canada.
Verbal abuse is often a large component of emotional abuse and includes, but is not limited to, blaming, ridiculing, insulting, swearing, yelling, humiliating and labelling.
My reason for putting forward the bill is to raise awareness of the impact that words have in our society.
What we must recognize is that verbal abuse has emotional, educational and health costs and is often a precursor to other forms of abuse.
With the recent suicides and school shootings of young people in Canada and abroad being directly connected to verbal abuse and bullying, we as parliamentarians are compelled to raise awareness and develop prevention and educational efforts on this issue with the communities of the country.
The creation of a national verbal abuse prevention week would address the first part of this necessary sequence of events, that is raising awareness about the fierce power of words.
Much of the national interest in this issue began as a result of initiatives in Prince Edward Island, my home province. In 1998, Tami Martell from Milltown Cross, Prince Edward Island, and founder of Walk for Talk, received provincial and national attention through her decision to walk across the province to raise awareness about the seriousness of verbal abuse. By the fall of 1999, P.E.I. had its first verbal abuse prevention week in schools across the province and since then it has become an annual event.
When I initially undertook this issue as a private member's bill I received many letters of support from organizations, legislators and citizens.
If I could summarize the whole intent of the bill, it goes go back to a nursery rhyme that we all heard in the playground, “sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you”. Since then there has been a lot of research, knowledge and wisdom on the whole issue, and sticks and stones will still break our bones but names can also hurt us.
Verbal aggression often has no outside witnesses. There are no black eyes and no broken bones. Private behaviour can be very different from public behaviour which makes verbal abuse easy to deny and very difficult to prosecute.
Verbal abuse leaves invisible scars and is often used as a form of control to make the victim dependent on the aggressor, such as in parental or other social relationships.
Some researchers argue that physical abuse is not as prevalent as other types of abuse in abusive teenage relationships and that abusers usually begin with demeaning verbal abuse that then may proceed to unwanted physical advances, date rape and other physical violence.
While there may be no bruises, broken bones or black eyes, verbal abuse still has an impact on physical health.
Terry Kinney, a professor at the University of Minnesota, has researched the effects of verbal aggression on people and found that the stress caused by verbal aggression can make a person physically ill as stress can weaken a person's immune system.
A recent study reported in Psychology Today showed that emotionally abused women were more likely to report poor physical health than other women and that these medical problems were remarkably similar to those affecting women who were physically abused.
One research scientist at the Institute for Work and Health has argued that health care workers call in sick more often and stay away longer than people in other jobs partly because of the high levels of verbal abuse that health care workers experience on the job.
The result of verbal abuse of children is especially devastating. Children depend on those closest to them for their own self-image. If they are told at an early age that they are worthless they will believe it to be true. These negative feelings can be very difficult to discard later in life. Children who experience verbal abuse may develop an impaired ability to perceive, feel, understand and express emotion.
Research indicates that abused children are more likely to become victims of abuse later in life, become abusive themselves, and/or become depressed and self-destructive. A 1991 study on the effects of verbal abuse on children indicated that more frequent rates of verbal aggression by a parent result in a greater probability of physical, aggressive or delinquent behaviour by the child. That study also revealed that these problems affect all age groups, both sexes, and all families regardless of socioeconomic status.
One Maine research project reported that children at age eight who were identified as frequently bullying others are six times more likely to be convicted of crimes by the age of 24. Furthermore, these same children are five times more likely than non-bullies to end up with serious criminal records by the age of 30.
Last night on CTV there was an excellent program on bullying. It gave an excellent perspective on the whole problem, which is being experienced right across the country. This private member's bill relates very much to that issue. Exposure to bullying by peers has also been linked to increased dropout rates, lower self-esteem, fewer friends, declining grades and increased illnesses, and these were some of the issues that were being discussed last night.
This issue also affects the workplace and may cause increased stress and anxiety, loss of self-esteem and of belief in one's professional competence, avoidance behaviour, which may negatively effect performance of duties, including increased absences from work, a negative effect on interpersonal relationships and loss of job satisfaction.
Verbal abuse does not only affect its direct victims; it also causes pain to those who silently see their loved ones suffer in pain. We have to realize that belittling and criticizing is part of verbal abuse. Children and adults alike need to learn to communicate without degradation and domination.
I want to emphasize that verbal abuse is unique in that it is the only form of abuse that has not been the subject of an intense public education or awareness program. Other forms of abuse and violence, such as date rape, family violence, senior violence and abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse and spousal abuse are already well recognized in our society as unacceptable behaviours and have various mechanisms to change the behaviour of perpetrators and also to assist victims. It is crucial that verbal abuse be brought to the forefront of people's minds, that we are all made aware of its devastating and long term effects and educated as to how quickly and regularly it transforms into physical violence.
Sadly, the seriousness of this issue is slowly coming to the public's attention. There have been a number of dramatic cases involving verbal abuse covered by the national and international media. In January of this year Thomas Junta was convicted for the beating death of Michael Costin at their children's hockey practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which began, as everyone in this House is aware, after a hostile exchange between the two fathers.
Another sports related incident that captured the attention of Canadians was an altercation at a girls' softball game in Albany, Georgia in 1979, when Ray Knight, a former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and manager, engaged in an agitated and profane dispute with the father of another girl. It led to Mr. Knight hitting the other parent and being charged, but it started with verbal abuse.
This is a very serious issue in our minor hockey system right across Canada. We see situations where parents of both genders, people who outside the rink do not engage in that type of behaviour, verbally abuse 12 year old and 13 year old referees.
Verbal abuse has also become an increasing problem in our schools, resulting in fear among teachers and students alike. Recent suicides and school shootings of young people in Canada and abroad are connected directly to verbal abuse and bullying. The horrifying incident that occurred at Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher died as a result of teenage shooters who subsequently turned their guns on themselves, was attributed largely to verbal abuse that the two boys had suffered at the hands of their peers.
What we now consider to be almost commonplace in school, violence, suicides and shootings, can, I submit, be prevented. With increased education we can better understand how to better prevent verbal abuse and, consequently, its negative long term effects.
The timing of this verbal abuse prevention week, to be held in the first week of the month of October, would allow administrators, teachers and personnel in the education system to develop curriculum based programs and encourage the participation of students in verbal abuse prevention activities that would help educate our youth to treat others as we would want to be treated, that is, with kindness and respect.
Recent developments in the campaign to raise awareness of verbal abuse are exemplified through an American organization called Words Can Heal, a national effort that began in September 2001, shortly after a national poll showed that 90% of Americans agreed that verbal violence and gossip are a problem in schools, in homes and in the workplace. Words Can Heal is a media and educational campaign to eliminate verbal violence, curb gossip and promote the healing power of words to enhance relationships at every level. There is a board comprised of top politicians, leading diplomats, Wall Street's most influential CEOs, clergy, Hollywood celebrities and community leaders.
This American campaign is one good example of the necessity for public action and education. While there are some good examples in Canada of programs aimed at preventing verbal aggression, a national week of awareness would go that much further in co-ordinating awareness raising programs across Canada and publicizing this very important issue.
There is a great deal of support for the bill from constituents and from organizations in my province and across Canada. This private member's bill can help raise awareness of the effects of verbal abuse by increasing the amount of education people have access to about the impact of words, which may then cause people to reflect on what they say and do to others.
The bill can also help promote better conflict resolution skills. I submit there is no time when better and greater conflict resolution skills are needed than right now in the troubled world in which we live.
Finally, the bill may result in improved access to information for victims and perpetrators of verbal abuse and better education as to where Canadians can seek professional help.
Clearly this issue is a growing concern among Canadians and in the entire world. I have sponsored the bill in the hope that it will succeed in capturing the attention and concern of my fellow parliamentarians about the seriousness of verbal abuse in our communities, in our homes and in our schools and about the importance of raising people's awareness of this very important topic.
While this bill has been deemed non-votable, I urge my colleagues here today to reflect on the magnitude of this issue and ensure that in the future perpetrators and victims of verbal abuse will be taken seriously by our society.